My mother was a glorious, glamorous, sparkly brown-eyed bundle of mischief and fun, a real ‘ta dah, here I am’ sort of person. Most of all she was an embracer, an embracer of life, of circumstances, of people and particularly of me. Just past the middle of the last century, this young, ever anglicising German, still only in her late twenties, found herself living with her British husband and baby (moi) at the Chiltan Hotel in Quetta, Pakistan, within sight of the Afghan border. Pakistan, then just 10 years into its independence from India was, as it still is now, a very challenging place to live. Thousands of miles from her home and family with no Skype, Email or even reliable telephone line and with the thin blue airmail letters she sent home rarely arriving for having had their stamps stolen, she did what she always did, she rolled up her sleeves and got down to it in her inimitable open hearted, interested, inquisitive way. Before long, she was running the Chiltan Hotel and had started a catering business for expat parties, unheard of, as it was in those days, for expat wives to work. She made friends easily, indiscriminately mixing up the Khans, the Jilanis, the Bugtis with the Murphys, the Campbells and the Parkers, organizing tennis parties and poker evenings and generally disrupting the existing status quo which, until then, had silently decreed that expats and locals each kept to themselves. With her high heels and her long red fingernails, she was as at ease in the souks as she was in the palaces or the Chief Commissioner’s residence.
It is against this Balochi background, at high altitude in the fruit garden of Pakistan where leopards still roam, that I grew from baby to toddler to little girl, speaking fluent Urdu (which, annoyingly, I have now forgotten), eating sajji, pulao and chapattis and, no doubt, thinking of myself as a fair haired, blue eyed, freckle faced Pakistani. Sadly, I have never been back to Pakistan but to this day, when I hear the call to prayer at dusk, smell heat and spices and dust, or sit in front of a steamy spicy curry, I feel at home and comforted.
(Apologies to my regular readers for reusing the intro of a previous post in this review)
Since there are no Pakistani restaurants in the area, Monzil on Barnes’s Church Road has been our go to Friday evening curry stop for years. Your typical neighbourhood Indian, with pink table cloths and slightly garish pictures on the wall, it’s popular with the locals and, in the past, has always served excellent food. Not the gourmet style variety of the more salubrious Indian restaurants in town like Amaya et al but a perfectly decent curry with a nice cold beer or chilled glass of wine and all the accoutrements we’ve come to expect from this type of eatery. It’s been a good two years since we last went to Monzil, so this time, when the Lovely Husband and I were overcome by the need for something hot and saucy, we visited with great anticipation, looking forward to the type of delicious and satisfying meal we have so often enjoyed there previously.
On the surface, nothing much has changed. Monzil still looks the same and service is courteous, friendly and efficient. The menu too looks pretty much the same but a few fancier sounding dishes have been added and a few of the old favourites are no longer to be had. We ordered our perennial favourites, poppadoms with condiments, onion bhajis, vegetarian samosas, Lamb Tikka, Pilau rice, Nan, a side order of a small vegetable curry and, failing to find our past choice of preferred meat curry, a portion Chicken Chilli Masala.
The bhajis are big, too big perhaps, lovely and crispy but a bit too oily while being quite dry inside and not as tasty as they could be. The samosas have a hardish shell of a pastry crust. They were ok but not spectacularly well spiced or flavoursome. The Lamb Tikka was truly excellent, hot and sizzling, succulent and somehow pleasantly smoky, so 10/10 for those. The nan was disappointing. It looked good but wasn’t nearly buttery and spongey enough while being slightly too sweet. The curries, chicken and vegetable, were fine. Not outstanding or delicately spiced and, for us, not quite hot enough, but they were palatable and pleasant enough. Prices had increased quite substantially too while we’ve been away, and the £45.95 bill including a glass of Sauvignon, a bottle of Kingfisher beer and a small bottle of Perrier but no service charge seemed quite steep in comparison.
All in all, the meal was nice enough but far from outstanding. Only the really excellent Lamb Tikka saved it from sliding off into the mediocre. Perhaps the usual chef is still on his summer holidays or maybe he has been replaced altogether. After so many years of giving us culinary pleasures, we will, of course, return to give Monzil another chance but right now I’m not sure whether it’s indigestion I’m feeling or just the breaking of my heart.